In June of 2015 I moved in to a new home. That is to say a house that was new to me, the structure has been standing for more than 80 years. It is the third house that I’ve purchased but the first where I felt a desire to be a “do it yourself” guy and get my hands dirty. I wrote out a list of projects I wanted to tackle. As many homeowners can attest, such a list tends to get longer rather than shorter. But near the top of the list was to work on the deck in my backyard.

This summer I got to it. The deck is structurally sound so I chose to refinish it rather than replace it. I started by doing some research on the best approach. It became very clear that the most important thing to do is to remove all the dirt that has collected over the years so that the stain can be applied to a clean surface.

Cleaning was a multi-phased endeavor requiring many tools. First a pressure washer, next was a belt sander, then a palm sander, followed by a detail sander. I finally reached the stage where I could paint on the stain and breathe new life in to my old deck.

It took quite a bit of time but once the project was finished I was pleased with how it looked. What really brought a smile to my face, however, was the beading of water on the first subsequent rain. That was affirmation that all the work was worth it, getting to that clean surface maximized the value of the project.

Establishing a clean environment is needed almost every time you are trying to improve on something. It is even true when considering what financial services firms should do as part of their big data and digital customer experience strategies.

Any analytics project that is being performed would benefit from a clean, and perhaps equally important, a common set of data. It does not matter if the objective is to uncover what product should be promoted to which customer, what lead should be passed to whom or what the ideal customer profile is for a new business marketing campaign.

The customer experience would also improve. For instance, a customer who visits the website of the wealth management division of their bank would expect to see the same information as they see on the retail banking site. To go a step further, they expect that changes made in either location is immediately reflected in the other and any other account held at the bank.

What’s more, the financial advisor in wealth management would share the same view of the customer as the teller at the bank kiosk, with restrictions based on role and what is permissible according to compliance regulations. Improving the ability to service the customer and generate loyalty.

The well-established firms have amassed a great deal of data about their customers across the organization over a long period of time. There is tremendous value in that data but in order for it to be most useful there is a need to clean or harmonize it.

Just as I did not want to rebuild my deck given its solid foundation, firms are not interested in rebuilding their back office systems, they would rather take advantage of what they have and make advancements.

There are many tools that can be used to cleanse data. The trick, however, is making the customer data useful across the enterprise without moving it from the store in which it resides. You are best to not disturb the foundation.

There is integration work to be done, stewardship rules to plan, business processes to consider, definitions to address. It takes effort to achieve what would be considered clean data across an enterprise.

Doing this well, however, has the potential of creating tremendous value for an organization.

I look forward to responding to any thoughts you may have on this topic in the comments section below.